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South Sudan: Senior UN human rights official condemns deplorable rights situation, calls for perpetrators to be held to account

JUBA/GENEVA/NEW YORK (17 February 2017) – At the end of a four-day visit to South Sudan, the UN Assistant Secretary-General for human rights,  Andrew Gilmour, called for those committing  atrocity crimes in the country to be held accountable.

“This is a war that has been waged against the men, women and children of South Sudan,” he said.  “And the only way of ending this onslaught will be when the perpetrators face consequences for what they are doing.”

Gilmour held meetings in Juba with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, the Minister of Information, the Chief of General Staff of the SPLA, the Director General of the National Security Service, representatives of the South Sudan Human Rights Commission, local authorities, religious leaders, UN and humanitarian partners, as well as NGOs, victims and civil society actors.

During his visit, Gilmour also travelled to Malakal, where he received further information concerning the suffering of the civilian population in the area.

“Although this is the fourth time I’ve been in South Sudan since 2011, I wasn’t prepared for the shocking devastation I witnessed in Malakal and even more by the clear pattern of systematic human rights violations and abuses suffered by the population,” Gilmour said.

He was informed of the appalling risks that women, now living under UN protection, are forced to take in order to be able to earn even the most meagre livelihood. When leaving the UNMISS protection of civilians site, they have been frequently subjected to rape by militias and SPLA on their route to the market in Malakal town.  Rape and gang rape is present in the testimonies of numerous women in the area, though this was categorically denied by the SPLA Division Commander with whom Gilmour spoke.

“It is utterly abhorrent that women in this area have to choose between getting raped or getting a livelihood,” Gilmour said, “But this seems the brutal reality of what South Sudan has become.”

In March 2016, the UN human rights office issued a detailed report which documents the horrendous patterns of sexual violence in the country.   http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AfricaRegion/Pages/SouthSudanReport.aspx

In his meetings with the authorities in Juba, Gilmour raised concerns about the unspeakable human rights situation throughout the territory.  He urged the authorities to combat the worrying rise of hate speech and to do more to protect human rights defenders.

In his meeting with the Chief of General Staff of the SPLA, General Paul Malong, Gilmour emphasized the severe restrictions on access that UNMISS faces when trying to protect civilians, provide humanitarian assistance and monitor the human rights situation in the country. 

He stressed his concern that elements of the SPLA had engaged in what could well amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. On the other hand he welcomed the recent start of UN human rights training for the SPLA and the appointment of SPLA focal points on conflict related sexual violence.

“Of course we know that until there’s peace in South Sudan, human rights will continue to be trampled,” the Assistant Secretary-General said. “But even during war, one can fight without routinely committing such needless acts of cruelty.  And this is what we are calling on all parties – government and opposition – to do.”

Gilmour urged the Director General of the National Security Service to put an end to the practice of arbitrary and prolonged detention without charge, bring detainee before the courts, and allow them access to their lawyers and family.

He underlined to the Government authorities the absolute need to avoid reprisals and threats against human rights defenders who have cooperated with the United Nations. In this connection, he drew attention to a specific incident last September in which human rights defenders were threatened following the visit of the UN Security Council.

ENDS 

For more information and media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org) or Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org) or Liz Throssell (+41 22 917 9466 / ethrossell@ohchr.org)

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